The Wrestler is a movie that hits close to home. No, I have never been a professional wrestler and neither has anyone in my family. I did however have a friend who was heavily involved in the promotional business of the WWF many years ago. Trust me when I say that 95% of retired wrestlers don’t look or act like Hulk Hogan. No, they’re all pretty much in the exact same shape as Randy “The Ram” Robinson. Some even worse — much worse.
The casting of Mickey Rourke to play him may be the best casting job in the history of cinema. Rourke as you may or may not know has been through the proverbial ringer himself — one day being the poster boy of Hollywood, the next finding it nearly impossible to get a call back or even a script. You can see the wear and tear in his face and on his now massive frame (he’s even bigger than he was when he played Marv in Sin City). Time it seems has not been kind to either “The Ram” or Rourke as it has passed them by.
The Wrestler, though, is more than just a gritty movie about a guy who performs scripted punches, kicks and body slams in the ring. Robert D. Siegel wrote in a great deal of character into his characters — so much so that you pain when they pain.
And there is more than enough pain to go around. Randy is still holding onto better days when he had a rabid following of wrestling fans. He now takes his trade to high school auditoriums and wrecks his body for 50 spectators. His family are the few entertainers he bleeds with on weekends but he yearns for something closer to home. He’s tired and broken down. He has a daughter Stephanie (Evan Rachel Wood) who hates him. He needs her desperately but she wants nothing to do with him. His love interest is an aging topless dancer named Cassidy (Marisa Tomei). She doesn’t want anything to do with him outside of a lap dance either. That doesn’t stop him from trying though.
But alas, an old dog can’t learn new tricks — Randy has to be “The Ram”. He breaks down the barriers his daughter had been erecting for years only to screw it all up over a night of debauchery. To hell with the 9-5 job at the deli counter. And just when Cassidy (real name Pam) sees him as something other than a customer, he sees her as stripper.
For Rourke’s troubles, he deserves an award for his heartfelt work here, although I doubt he’ll get one. Acting in this must have struck a chord within him that I’m sure he’d rather have not heard. Tomei has only gotten better with age. Could it have something to do with her getting naked in all her latest endeavors? If it is, then I can’t wait to see her in her next role — I see full frontal and another Oscar coming her way sooner than later (a guy can hope can’t he?).
Director Darren Aronofsky positions you into a figure-four leglock with The Wrestler and doesn’t let go. Wrestling has never been so real. Neither has Rahway, NJ.